When Is Social Responsibility Socially Desirable?
We study a model in which corporate social responsibility (CSR) arises as a response to inefficient regulation. In our model, firms, governments, and workers interact. Firms generate profits but create negative spillovers that can be attenuated through government regulation, which is set endogenously and may or may not be socially optimal. Governments may choose suboptimal levels of regulation if they face lobbying pressure from companies. Companies can, in turn, hire socially responsible employees who enjoy taking actions to ameliorate the negative spillovers. Because firms can capture part of the rent created by allowing socially responsible employees to correct social ills, in some settings they find it optimal to lobby for inefficient rules and then capture the surplus associated with being "good citizens" in the face of bad regulation. In equilibrium, this means CSR can either increase or decrease social welfare, depending on the costs of political capture.
The authors would like to thank Shawn Cole, Navin Kartik, Ramana Nanda, Tom Nycholas, Mike Waldman, Jeff Zwiebel, and seminar participants at Brigham Young University, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Harvard Business School, HEC Montreal, INSEAD, National University of Singapore, Universite du Quebec a Montreal, Universite Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, University of Miami, University of New South Wales, Stanford, University of Toronto, and University of Victoria for helpful feedback. The expert research assistance of Huafang Liu is gratefully acknowledged. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.